Orlando’s huge expansion plan raises flags within Orange County

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orlando’s plan to add thousands of acres in eastern Orange County to its city limits is raising eyebrows within Orange County’s leadership, with some speculating that the city is positioning itself for a bigger land grab in the future.


Last month, Orlando notified the county it would vote to annex the Sunbridge parcel, which spans from the OUC power plant to south of SR 528.

Tavistock, the developer of Lake Nona, plans to build 7,300 units of housing, 5.5 million square feet of office space, 2.9 million square feet of industrial space and 880,000 square feet of retail on the 6,300 acres, creating what some have billed a “Lake Nona 2.0.”

“As a city, we must plan for and help meet that demand for housing and civic/infrastructure developments,” City of Orlando spokeswoman Ashley Papagni wrote in an email. “This proposed annexation and partnership with Tavistock will help further that and consolidates these projects within one government jurisdiction.”

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A Tavistock spokeswoman said the organization would follow development plans approved by Orange County, including existing environmental restrictions.

The statement was offered in part to address claims by environmental activists – and some county leaders – that the developer was trying to skirt the county’s stricter wetland protections and its proposed rural boundary.

“The county is has a wetlands ordinances that’s very strong, and that’s why developers love to be annexed by the city,” Speak Up Wekiva President Chuck O’Neal said. “The city is not very protective.”

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However, wetlands aren’t the only issue county leaders are worried about. State law allows a city or town to annex properties that are adjacent to its borders.

With the addition of Sunbridge, the city would become adjacent to the 300,000 acre Deseret Ranch owned by the Mormon Church – allowing the city to annex Orange County’s portion of the property and develop it with limited county input.

That would effectively remove the county from its entire southeastern corner, near sensitive environmental areas leaders are desperate to protect.

“We are opening up an entire area to the same types of congestion we’re seeing that we didn’t get in front of the last time,” Commissioner Nicole Wilson said. “We’ve got to learn our lesson, we have to grow up and not out. We don’t have the infrastructure and transportation and water, and all the other things you need in order to safely grow that way.”

Orange County took its first step to block Orlando’s plan Wednesday afternoon, when it sent an objection letter to the city.

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In his letter, Mayor Jerry Demings said Sunbridge was not slated for urban development and annexing the property would create a “fingerlike appendage” of city limits, which goes against annexation guidelines that boundaries needed to be compact.

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